Sunday, March 22, 2009

Duncan watching

Like many of us these days, I spend way too much time and energy in the non-participatory sport of Arne Duncan-watching. Like most progressive educators, I cringe at all the salutes to top-down control, standardization, exaggerated charter claims, and pay-for-performance pandering to the right, all the while wondering if anyone who doesn't have a direct connection to the Gates Foundation will ever have a seat at the table.

But ever the optimist, even in this--to use the words of Frank Rich--Obama's "Katrina moment," and knowing full well the difference between this regime and Bush's, I keep looking for something hopeful and forward thinking coming from Duncan. I didn't hear anything of that sort coming out of his visit Friday, to New Orleans. He called Paul Vallas' disaster-driven, two-tier, union-busted experiment in privatization, a "phenomenal innovation" offering a chilling prospect of things to come in the still hurricane-ravaged city.

On the positive side (I think), were Duncan's pronouncements Saturday about science education.

"You need to make inquiry-based science relevant to kids—stimulate their curiosity—connect it with their lives. Together we need to change the national dialogue about science—to prepare our kids to be honestly critical and technically competent. "Science is all about questioning assumptions, testing theories, and analyzing facts. These are basic skills that prepare kids not just for the lab—but also for life. We’re doing kids a disservice if we don’t teach them how to ask tough and challenging questions."

After 8 dark years of anti-science (remember Rod Paige's push for mandated intelligent-design curriculum?) there may be some hope yet for the new regime, for teachers who believe in the spirit of inquiry, encouraging curiosity and imagination and for students and parents demanding equity in access to science education. We'll all have to wait and see what happens with NCLB re-authorization and whether Duncan's version of science is just another set of testing metrics.

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